Monday, August 25, 2008

It's the Most Wonderful Time of the Year...

Now, I know what you're thinking: Are you seriously going to get this song stuck in my head in the middle of August? I know you've got kids, lady, but take a look at your calendar once in awhile. It's hot, it's humid, and I've got at least another month before the holiday trees and menorahs go up in the mall. But I promise I'm not nuts. Even though I've been humming that tune for a week, it's not Christmas I've got on my mind. It's that other most wonderful time of the year: the First Day of School.

Come to think of it though, Hallmark and Russell Stover are missing out on a major First Day of School market. I mean, it's not an official holiday, but as a mom with three kids starting pre-school next week, I think it should be. What better way to celebrate the kids' return to the classroom than with a card and a box of candy? And if you're one of those mothers who gets weepy watching her babies walk into the schoolyard for the first time, wouldn't you feel better with some chocolate and a note from the kids?

I feel guilty admitting it, but I don't fall into that latter category of weepy moms. I'm pretty sure that while all the other mommies are sobbing into their Kleenex wads next Wednesday, I'll be shouting "Praise Jesus!" as I lay a wheel speeding out of the parking lot. Don't get me wrong. I love my girls and I love spending time with them. But I also love grocery shopping alone.

Of course, the privilege of strolling through Kroger with my solitary grocery cart and a cup of tea in hand doesn't come cheap. I think we're going to need to take out a second mortgage on the house just to cover tuition. And don't forget the hidden costs those sneaky pre-school teachers slip in when they send home innocuous-sounding lists like "School Supplies" and "Mrs. Martin's Classroom Wish List." I spent $140 at Target today on a list that included a disposable camera, brown pillowcases, copy paper, a box of tall kitchen trash bags, paper towels, and vegetable oil. I don't know if I just supplied the kids' classrooms or did Mrs. Martin's grocery shopping.

Of course, the cherry atop the school preparation parfait was getting my hands on the girls' immunization records. Ella was due for her 4-year check yesterday and, in anticipation of a taxing appointment, I left the twins with Nana and took Ella in for her annual check-up and vaccines. Despite planning ahead, we arrived in the parking lot 10 minutes past our appointment time. This was due in large part to the unbelievable tantrum Ella pitched from the time I pulled out of Nana's driveway until the time we arrived 45 minutes later at the pediatrician's office.

We made it, though, and somehow dodged a reprimand from the front-office nurse who checked us in. Maybe she remembered me from our last visit. That time I had all four kids with me, and I was really late. I think I also said something to the effect of, "These kids had better be sick. Otherwise, there is no excuse for their behavior and I'm giving them away!"

We were quickly escorted back to the exam room, where the nurse asked me the basic check-up questions and then asked if I needed any forms.

"Yes, I do. I actually need to get immunization forms for all three girls."

"Well, I'm sorry, but since the twins aren't here, there's going to be a $20 fee for their forms."

Of course there is...

Despite paying out yet more money towards school, the appointment continued to go relatively smoothly. The pediatrician came in and completed his exam, asked me 21 questions about my daughter's development, and then said, "I don't know how you do it, Mom."

"It's a challenge," I replied, "Especially with Ella leading the band."

He smiled, as if remembering something, and said, "Yeah, if you were giving your kids away today, I'd take that one," pointing to Baby Ty playing quietly in his stroller. He pointed to Ella then, who was making faces at herself in the mirror. "Not so much that one."

He wished me luck and left to hunt down a nurse to administer Ella's shots. Ella typically doesn't do well with surprises, which is a trait she inherited from her dad. But Ella is also terrified of needles - also a trait she inherited from dad - and so as we sat in the exam room, I debated between telling her about the vaccine and just letting it be an unpleasant surprise. At the last minute, I decided to give her a heads-up:

"Ella, come here sweetie. I want you to look at me for a minute. Not the mirror. Look at me. You've been a brave girl today. I know it's not fun coming to the doctor's office, but when we're done, I'll take you downstairs to pick out a treat."

Gasp. "A TREAT, Mommy? I LOVE treats!"

"I know, Ella. But honey, first there's going to be a boo-boo."


There were a lot of limbs flailing around as Ella threw herself to the floor screaming. Just then, the nurse walked in. She watched the frenzy of arms and legs for a moment. "Um, why don't I have you hold her on your lap."




I pulled Ella up on my lap and wrapped my arms around her to contain hers.

"You can hold that arm, ma'am. I've got this one."


"I said, "YOU CAN HOLD...OW!"

"Ella! Don't hit the nurse! Tell her you're sorry!"


The nurse was holding her nose. "Okay," she said, "Let's just get this done." I held Ella's arms down and the nurse did a quick prick in Ella's arm. In less than 3 seconds, it was over.


The nurse left (probably to have a doctor examine her nose) as Ella continued screaming. In fact, she continued her mantra of "Owwww! It hurts!" as I got her dressed, packed up our things, and headed out to collect our $20 school forms. It didn't take long for us to draw some attention. Within moments, children in the adjoining waiting area were staring at us bewildered as Ella wailed. Two of them were standing close enough for Ella to twist her arm around and show them her Band-Aid. "OWWWWWWWWWWWWWWWWW!" she cried. "IT HUUUUUURTS!" Their mother shot me an irritated look and dragged the paralyzed kids towards the back of the waiting room.

"Sorry," I muttered.

We headed out of the office and down the elevator as promised for a visit to the candy aisle of the first-floor pharmacy. Ella was still proclaiming her ill-treatment as we walked in the door.


"Ella, do you want to pick out a treat? Ella? ELLA!?!"

"OWWWWWWWW! IT... Oh. Oh! Mommy, they have M&M's. I want M&M's, Mommy. I love treats!"

Mommy bought herself a treat, too. Well, maybe two treats, in honor of the upcoming holiday. After all, I earned them. Yesterday's trauma is over, and as of today, I have all the school supplies on the list laid out on my kitchen table, the coveted immunization forms tucked away safely in my teacher folder, and the girls' school clothes picked out. I am officially ready for pre-school to start. I might even buy myself a card and some more candy to celebrate. Too bad the most wonderful time of the year doesn't start for another 8 days.

Monday, August 18, 2008

Pitching my Tent

It's been a really bad week. It began with a nasty stomach bug, and at some point descended into a dark mental place that's hard for me for write about, let alone share. But part of my reason for blogging - aside from the regular writing practice I get - is to encourage other mothers of young children by being honest about the experiences I have with my own kids. I can usually laugh about our daily escapades; but more often than I like to admit, I also find myself in "the depths of despair."

I've battled this despair for years. The causes have varied from bout to bout: chronic illness; hyperemic or unexpected pregnancies; three miscarriages and three post-partum recoveries... I didn't make it past Psych 101, but I'll go out on a limb and call it situational depression. Exercise, counseling, medication, and rest all help to a certain extent, but those things are next to impossible to do when I'm trying to take care of four children. Sometimes I just go THERE.

If I'm really being honest, I've been THERE for quite a few months this time, although I didn't recognize my surroundings immediately. It took a women's conference in Atlanta last month to open my eyes. A young mom and teacher - Priscilla Shrier - was sharing a story that is familiar to those of us who grew up in Sunday School. It's an Old Testament account of the 40 years that God's children, the nation of Israel, spent wandering in the desert (Exodus 19). It wasn't much of a stretch for Priscilla to liken that story to our present-day struggles. Most women find themselves "wandering in the wilderness" at least once in their lives. I've done a few stints myself, as I mentioned, and as I listened to this speaker's message, I just knew I couldn't go back. In fact, I was physically ill at the thought of ever being in that place again. I cannot do this, Lord. Please don't make me go back THERE. I don't have the strength...

Girl, open your eyes and look around. You've been THERE. Pitch your tent already!

I don't know if motherhood is making me lose my mind, but there it is: I heard the voice of God, and apparently He speaks to me like one of my girlfriends. Yes, it was really more of an impression I felt from His Holy Spirit, but it was real. And accurate. I recognized right away that I'd been hanging out in the desert - but that I'd been too busy sticking my head in the sand to pitch my tent. At that moment, I finally surrendered and made myself at home in that dry, familiar place.

The Israelites waited in the wilderness for 40 years; I'm hoping I don't have to live there quite so long. But God is gracious, because if you know the story, you'll remember two things: 1) God had His people in the desert so He could personally teach them about Himself; and 2) God sent manna from heaven every morning to feed the Israelites in the desert. (They just had to get out of their tents and gather what He daily provided.)

Unfortunately, I wasted days' worth of time crying in my tent last week - which made me a miserable wife and mom. I didn't take one bite of His provision; I just sat around thinking, "I don't want to be where I am right now. I don't like who I am when I'm living in this place!" But I want to learn what it is God teaching me about Himself, and I usually process those lessons through writing. So tonight, I'm going to ask God what He wants me to write about - right after get out of my tent and grab something to eat! Hopefully, I'll have something to say again soon.

(PS - Someone sent me a YouTube link that speaks a bit to the theme of this entry. Hope you enjoy it as much as I did! )

Saturday, August 9, 2008

My Day Off

It's tough to remember my life before children, but if I think hard enough, I can recall a few details from the past. For example, I have a lot of job experience outside of homemaking. I actually started out at a Chick-fil-a, which is ironic, since my kids exist to "Eat Mor Chikin." But I've done plenty of things since then, too. In addition to working the drive-thru, I've been a waitress, a sales-clerk, a receptionist, a jeweler, a switch-board operator, and a teacher. I hated most of those jobs and loved at least one, but the best part of each was, without a doubt, The Day Off. Whether it was a sick day, or too many people on the floor, or inclement weather, I always loved getting that little unanticipated gift of time.

Unfortunately, there's pretty much only one way for mothers of small children to get a day off from work: communicable disease. And let's be honest, it's not really a day off. It's not like the kids are suddenly rendered mute on account of Mommy's throbbing head. If anything, they get louder in order to make sure they're heard over the retching.

I got an unexpected Day Off this past week when I came down with suspicious, flu-like symptoms: fever, aches, chills, and all the gastroenterological indicators for Montezuma's Revenge - in the midst of a 90 degree summer day. Unfortunately, no one received the memo for "Mommy's Sick Day," and life continued in its normal, chaotic fashion: Ella woke up at the crack of dawn, donned her princess costume, and started giving orders; Emily and Evie pulled their diapers off and then redistributed every item of clothing they own from their drawers to the floor; and Ty was... Well, Ty was just as easy as ever, until he came down with similar symptoms that required multiple diaper changes an hour. Unfortunately, since three hyperemic pregnancies have made me permanently nauseous, I didn't recognize my symptoms for what they were until after I hauled all four kids out for a morning of indoor playground fun at Monkey Joes.

After two hours of watching the girls run, bounce, and slide down the assortment of brightly-colored inflatables (which did nothing for my symptoms), I fed them a quick lunch and hustled them out to the car. We barely made it home, and once I had finished wrestling them down for a nap, I gave up and did what any woman in my position would do. I called my mom.

She's a saint, so she showed up just as the girls were getting out of their beds and I was crawling into mine. She did her best to keep them happy and occupied, but nonetheless I had several visitors to my bedside. The first was Ella, who grabbed the thermometer I'd just used, stuck it under her armpit, and asked, "Mommy, do you need a fever?"

I was suddenly worried that perhaps I'd just used the wrong instrument and stuck the kids' thermometer under my tongue. "Um, no thanks, sweetie. I already have one. Can you put that back now?"

"No, Mommy, I want to have a fever, too."

Oh Lord, please no...

Ella left to go talk Mimi into watching Snow White with her and I settled back into my bed. But Evie strolled in a few minutes later, just as I was drifting off to sleep. "MOMMY? MOMMY? YOU SLEEP? MOMMY, YOU SLEEP?"

I kept quiet at first, hoping that she would interpret my silence as an answer. But then she touched her nose to mine. "MOMMY?!?!?"

"Yeah, baby, Mommy's asleep..."

"OH." The bedroom door slammed behind her as she left to report my status to her grandma: "MIMI! MIMI! MOMMY'S SLEEP! OKAAAAY?"

A few more minutes passed and I slipped gratefully into an aspirin-induced coma just as Emily tip-toed in, blankie and paci in tow, to climb into bed with me. I was so tired that I probably wouldn't have noticed her presence except that her foot slipped and she landed butt-first on my face. "I sorry, Mommy! I sleep with you, okay? Okay, Mommy?"

My muffled grunt must have sounded like a "yes," because she lay down next to me and pulled the covers up to her chin. "Night night, Mommy."

I eventually got some rest without any kids in the room, and by the next morning, I thought I was feeling better. But my viral bout ended up lasting three long days, during which time my mom and my husband handled housekeeping, meals, and childcare. I'm not sure who's happier about my recovery - me or them. But one thing I know: unless there are spa treatments involved, I don't want another Day Off!

Sunday, August 3, 2008

Just When I Thought I Had it All Together...

Friends call and ask me all the time how I can manage four young kids and still keep the house picked up and the refrigerator stocked. I used to just smile and reply, "Oh, it's really not as bad as it sounds. Things have to get done, so I just make it work!" What they didn't see was me down on my hands and knees mopping up the jug of orange juice Emily just dumped on the floor and hissing at my children (with my hand over the mouthpiece, of course), "Be QUIET. Mommy is on the PHONE right now. And no, Evie, you MAY NOT have the scissors!"

The truth is, I've always overestimated what I am capable of accomplishing with four kids. Just a few weeks ago I took the whole clan with me to a doctor's appointment. I didn't think it would too bad since it was just a quick meeting with my psychiatrist. The doctor evaluated me (or was it my children?) for about 10 minutes, and then recommended additional medication. I don't know why. I thought the fact that only 2 of the kids cried and I didn't was pretty impressive. As a reward for their good behavior, I offered to take all four of them to the mall playground for lunch.

Despite the voice in my head telling me I was nuts (maybe that explains the new meds), I didn't really think I was overestimating my maternal capacity. I popped Ty into his stroller and latched the girls into three harnesses discreetly disguised as monkeys. (The "tail" of each animal is actually a leash, but don't tell my kids - they still think it's cool to carry monkeys on their backs.) I was feeling pretty proud of myself as we strolled into the mall. And I could tell that people were impressed by my resourcefulness, although I did overhear one guy comment to his friend, "Did that woman have all her kids on a leash?". Clearly he has never had to steer four children through the cosmetics department at Macy's during free gift week at Clinique.

We eventually made our way to the playground, where I was planning to feed a hungry Ty his bottle. Just as we arrived, however, Ella announced that she needed to go potty. Not wanting to be left out, Emily and Evie quickly climbed aboard the bathroom bandwagon, and within minutes I was on my way to the family restrooms (which are conveniently located up one level and on the other side of the mall) with one hungry baby and three little girls in tow.

Since Evie is still in the midst of potty training, I let Ella and Emily lead by example and complete their business first. Emily made the mistake of flushing, however. Evie is terrified of loud noises combined with swirling water; she shrieked and sprinted to the other side of the bathroom. While I was calming her down and trying to convince her that "potties are fun," Emily got bored and plopped down on her bare bottom to peer at the drain in the floor. "Ohmygoshthatissodisgustinggetupnow!!!" didn't really motivate her to move, but it made Ty cry. I abandoned Evie and hauled Emily over to the sink. Meanwhile, Ella started rubbing her face against the tile walls of the stall. After yelling at her twice to stop, I gave up my hand washing efforts, whipped out the antibacterial gel, and smeared it over all three kids. "That's it. I don't care if you're done or not. Everybody out of the bathroom NOW!"

When I walked out into the Food Court with one hungry baby and three little girls still in tow, I knew it was time for an executive decision:

"Okay girls, let's eat!"

The lines weren't too bad and the girls were excited about eating at the mall. By the time we sat down with our chicken nuggets and french fries, I was feeling like I had things back under control. The girls were sitting in their chairs, eating ketchup-laden fries and chattering to each other over juice boxes, and Ty was sucking contentedly on his bottle. I could see people walking by our table and smiling at the kids, and I overheard a few moms comment on my bravery. "Wow, this is really going well. And we sure are popular today," I thought, as yet another cluster of people smiled and pointed towards our table.

Just then, Emily's chatter pierced my thoughts. "Wait a minute. What is she saying? Something about pee-pee? That can't be right. She already went potty." That's when I heard it: "Evie go pee-pee. Evie, you go pee-pee? Evie go pee-pee on floor." A wave of panic rolled over me as I slowly bent over to look under the table. Sure enough, there it was: a tell-tale yellow puddle under Evie's chair. No wonder people are pointing and laughing. With no graceful way out, I mopped up the mess with a pile of napkins, stripped Evie out of her soggy shorts and stuck her in a diaper, then waved to on-lookers as we took the walk of shame back to our car.

I'd like to say that I learned my lesson, but I didn't, because I took all four kids back to the psychiatrist's office today. Not that I had a choice. There wasn't a babysitter available, and as my shrink so compassionately reminds me: "You chose to have four kids, so you're just going to have to figure out how to deal with it!". Ouch. I'm doubting she aced Empathy 101.

She's right, though. I just need to deal with it. If there's one thing I've learned as a mother, it's that I have NO control over my children. I can teach them, steer them, pray for and encourage them; but I can't actually make them do anything, so I shouldn't worry about what other people think. Sure, I might be embarrassed when Emily hands Ella's pre-school director something she dug out of her nose, but all I can do is apologize and explain to my daughter once again that "boogers aren't for sharing."

I'm getting better, I think. I don't worry as much about other people's perception of me as I used to. I'm better about being honest when my friends call, so plenty of people know that I don't have it all together. My laundry room is overflowing with clothes, the breakfast dishes are still sitting on the kitchen table at lunchtime, and there is more than one science experiment growing in my fridge. But I'm dealing with it. And someday, when the kids are teenagers, I just know I'll have it all together.